What are solariums (sunbeds)?

Solariums (also called solaria, sunbeds or tanning booths) are fitted with light tubes that release concentrated artificial ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is a type of energy produced naturally by the sun, or artificially in solariums.

Skin cells in the epidermis (the top or outer layer of our skin) produce a pigment called melanin, which gives skin its colour and works to protect the cells by absorbing UV radiation. When skin is exposed to UV radiation, the production of melanin is increased and the skin darkens (tans).

Solariums are not a safe way to tan. Whether UV radiation comes from the sun or a solarium, it can cause:

  • damage to your skin that significantly increases your risk of melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma;
  • burning, skin irritation, swelling, blistering and pain;
  • premature ageing of the skin (wrinkles, blotches, skin thickening); and
  • damage to your eyes.

A tan is much more than skin turning brown. Even a light tan is a sign that your skin has been exposed to too much UV radiation and that damage has occurred to the cells below.

Tanning in solariums can be especially dangerous as the UV radiation from solariums can be much stronger than the midday summer sun.

A recent review of the research on the link between skin cancer and solarium use found that the risk of skin cancer from any use of a solarium was 20%. This rose to 59% for people who used solariums before 35 years of age. Each year in Australia, as many as 280 new melanomas, over 40 melanoma related deaths, and some 2,500 new squamous cell carcinomas are caused by solarium use.

As of 31st December 2014, commercial solariums were banned in NSW. That means it is now illegal for any business or individual to offer UV tanning services for a fee in NSW, and anyone caught doing so risks significant fines.

Cancer Council does not recommend using a solarium or sunbed for the purposes of a sun tan for any reason. Download the facts about solariums information sheet.

9 January 2015.

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